When it comes to editorials, this one is a bit late. Some would say it is a long time coming, and that is OK. I am one for giving second, third, and even fourth chances but at that point, some things become painfully obvious. And after last night, it is painfully obvious that Joker Phillips needs to be let go. For me to say this is a huge thing. I spent way too much time defending Billie Gillispie in the past and have literally had Jokers back for the past three years. But after last night’s 49-7 embarrassment in which the higher powers had mercy on UK in, I can not find a reason for Joker to stay.
Last night was the five year anniversary of the greatest moment in Kentucky Football History. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when the Wildcats toppled the top ranked LSU Tigers. And the fact that the program has fallen this low in just five years is a shame and an embarrassment. In part, you can cast a finger at Rich Brooks because he did not build on the magnitude of that game and see a huge boost in recruiting. But Rich Brooks built a team from scratch and left Kentucky a winner. He did his job. All that Joker Phillips had to do was maintain that level of success and he has failed miserably.
You can no longer argue that Joker needs more time. Rich Brooks built a program in three years. Charlie Strong has built a program in three years. Willie Taggert has built a program in three years. At this point, you can not ignore that fact that Joker Phillips team has decreased in wins every year and at this point has gone from the best program in the state to easily the worst. And it’s not even close. And it is not just injuries.
If I seriously thought that the injuries were the main problem on this team, I would not be writing this. And it is tough to come down on a coach with the the injury record that Joker has this year. It goes beyond injuries and has to be solely the coaching at this point. From the opening series last night, you knew Kentucky was doomed. There was no fire, there was no passion, and there was no drive on Kentucky last night. And there was no guidance to correct this. Arkansas scored 28 points in the first quarter and the Kentucky defense was out of position on nearly every play. Even after an hour and five minute delay, there were no adjustments or improvement made as Arkansas scored just as easily before the delay as after. It just makes you wonder what coaching, if any went on during the break.
The offense was as directionless as the defense. And for me, the fact that Jalen Whitlow was thrown in and out like a yoyo shows that this coaching staff was just grasping at straws. Down 28-0, Whitlow was yanked from the game in favor of Morgan Newton. Two possessions later, with the score now 42-0, Whitlow was reinserted. Why? What was the purpose? In baseball during a drubbing like this, you throw in a pitcher to take one for the team and go on and pray for the best. You don’t go on and throw in a promising prospect to damage his psyche at that point. I know that our QB prospects were down to just Morgan and Jalen, but the fact that Joker even second guessed his decision to replace QB’s is telling.
On defense, it was even worse. Yes, once again, you can use the injury excuse and youth, but this was a defense that was poorly prepared and seemed to have never seen film of Cobi Hamilton or Tyler Wilson before. The first quarter was bookended by 70 yard plus TD passes to Johnathan Williams, a freshman RB, who had never caught a college pass before. It’s not like Williams was this super secret weapon that was drug out to beat Kentucky. On both passes, he was clearly wide open and the defense acted as if they had never been taught to prepare for a short dump to the halfback. That play could have been used five more times with the same result and the defense would have been horribly prepared each time.
Kentucky football is past the being at a crossroads point. That crossroads was after the WKU game and a change should have been made then. The uncertainty needs to end now and Kentucky needs to start its search for a new coach. Too much is at stake. Kentucky has a promising recruiting class in place and have arguably the most young talent they have had in years. A change has to be made to assure that these players know that Kentucky is going to do the right thing for them and provide them an environment that will allow them to reach their potential. I’m afraid if no change is made, players and recruits are going to start jumping off this trainwreck of a season and it will put this program and the new coach back a few more years.
As much as I am blaming Joker Phillips right now, an equal part of the blame for letting the program slide has to go to Mitch Barnhart. And as of right now, the ball is solidly in his court. I admire the guy for his unabashed loyalty but if he can not read the writing on the wall, maybe it is time for a complete overhaul. Too many people give Barnhart credit for the hiring of Calipari and give him a free pass with football because of that, but the fact is Calipari probably would not have been hired if not for Mike Pratt. With perhaps Kentucky’s greatest football player coming to town next weekend to be honored, maybe Barnhart should reach out to Dermontti Dawson and see if he is willing to help putting together the committee together to find us Kentucky’s first truly great football coach since Bear Bryant.
And lets look to the future with this hire. Let’s forget the names Mike Leach and Bobby Petrino and focus on names like Kirby Smart, Neal Brown and Tony Franklin. Barnhart should focus his energy on letting the committee find a coach and he should fight to get the dollars to put into this program to assure that a Brown or Franklin see Kentucky as a destination job and not as a stepping stone. And there is no reason why Kentucky should not be a destination job and the blame for that goes solely to the administration and Barnhart for letting it be downgraded to that.
In the end, something needs to happen and it needs to happen now. I’m not going to turn this site into a sounding board to get Joker fired. Too many sites do a much better job of that and Joker has deserved much better than that. I’m not going to argue that Joker deserves a better treatment, but so do the alumni, fans and the players themselves. Promises were made to them when they committed to Kentucky and those promises did not include getting pounded by a subpar Arkansas team and not being put in a position to win. Nor did those promises include being trapped in a nightmare of a season with no relief in sight. Joker deserves to be let go with dignity but the fact that Barnhart has slept on this for so long and has let the situation deteriorate so much almost makes it impossible at this point.
At this point, there are more questions than answers about Kentucky football but one thing is painfully obvious.